Where is one to find a place to stand in the face of the absurd polarity that has been set up in the media as a result of (and with the direct encouragement of) the pope’s visit?
The idea that we must choose between an extreme atheist position on the one hand and Christian virtue on the other demeans atheist and Christian (or Faithful) alike. Life is more complicated than that.
I find this passage from the Pope’s opening remark particularly disturbing:
Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live. I also recall the regimeâ€™s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives. As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a â€œreductive vision of the person and his destinyâ€
That comparison is just not on. Its specious and weasly. Atheism does not lead to Nazi tendencies. No more does Christianity make people automatically virtuous. It is an ugly polarity to set up and I’m disappointed to hear a case for it made in public by the Pope. Of course, its not that far rhetorically from the contrary position of Dawkins, who appears to believe that tyranny is the consequence of faith and that virtue is the consequence of atheism.
That kind of thinking is drivel whichever mouth it comes from. Life is more complicated than that and it should be open to people from many different perspectives to build an ethical framework for living. That’s likely to be a secular state, by the way, something that I’d encourage any people of faith to work and pray for.
We didn’t go to war with the Nazis because they were atheists.
If we are ever to develop the goodwill and genuine oikimene that the BBC has been trumpeting this morning as though it arrived when the Papal plane touched down, then we all need to find a better place to stand. The Holy Father should be welcomed with enthusiastic and generous hospitality. His ideas should also be subject to the greatest scrutiny and challenge.
[BTW, he was quoting his own Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, para 29)